TUMBY BAY - I served as a kiap in both New Guinea and Papua. In New Guinea the kiap rig generally consisted of a khaki shirt and shorts, shiny RM Williams boots and a slouch hat.
In Papua, especially on the remoter stations, kiaps tended to get around in whatever took their fancy or whatever they deemed suitable for the climate and circumstances.
Shirts cut off at the shoulders were teamed with footy shorts and submersible canvas jungle boots. Hats were an optional extra because they tended to get in the way in thick jungle, bandana headbands were much better at dealing with sweat.
For formal wear the cut-off shirt was substituted with a tee-shirt and thongs took the place of jungle boots.
You could always pick the kiap in the crowd in New Guinea because of their distinctive military-style attire.
In Papua it was hard to tell the kiaps from the rum-soaked crocodile shooters and the other reprobates that lived there .
The old adage tells us that ‘clothes maketh the man’ and I suspect this is true. Papuan kiaps tended to be a lot less uptight than their New Guinean counterparts.
Identifying kiaps in Papua was a difficult business. It could also be difficult in New Guinea because the odd aspirational district clerk or lesser mortal often fronted up to the office in khaki kit too.
This problem was eventually acknowledged by headquarters when they began issuing kiaps with Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary warrant cards.
My warrant card lasted for about a week into my first Papuan patrol. After wading through a couple of rivers it turned decidedly soggy and the photograph fell off and disappeared.
When I got back to base I dried it out and stuck a spare passport photograph in place of the missing official mugshot and tidied up all of the smudged lettering.
I asked the Assistant District Commissioner at Kiunga to arrange for a new card but he seemed to think my running repairs were okay.
I duly stuck it in a drawer and never took it out on patrol again. Or anywhere else for that matter.
In fact, from memory, the only time I actually used it was when I was pulled up in the Barossa Valley by a local copper for speeding while I was on leave.
He took a look at the warrant card, told me not to be a naughty boy and to keep going. I was only doing about 5kph over the speed limit anyway.
A little while ago I only became aware that the warrant cards with which we were issued were a relatively new thing in the 1960s when mine was issued.
Keith Jackson had used a copy of my ‘doctored’ warrant card to illustrate an article I had written and it caught the attention of ex-kiap Chips Mackellar. He provided some interesting background information.
“I thought our readers might be interested in my warrant card which was made for me before any of us had them officially.
In those days before warrant cards (circa 1950) the only way to prove our police [and kiap] identity was to carry a copy of the Government Gazette in which our commission was proclaimed. A rather inconvenient truth.
“But I had dealings with the oil companies then and at the tender age of 19 I looked more like a school kid than a stalwart enforcer of the law, so I asked DDA HQ for a warrant card, and they made one up especially for me.
“Note that it carried the then required copy of the gazette. Also note that at that time the police forces had not been amalgamated, and we were gazetted as members of ‘The Royal Papuan Constabulary’.
Chip’s initiative reminded me of another interesting identity issue that I experienced.
In 1969, following the ridiculous ‘act of free choice’ in West Irian, tensions rose considerably along the border.
The OPM [Organisasi Papua Merdeka] was active, refugees were fleeing into Papua New Guinea, often pursued by Indonesian soldiers, and there was considerable danger afoot for those of us patrolling the border.
About that time Arthur Marks was fired upon by TNI soldiers while in a canoe on the Bensbach River near Weam. Other similarly high charged incidents happened on the New Guinea side of the border too.
I recall on one patrol along the border when a rifle bird suddenly burst into song just ahead of us. I’ve never seen so many policemen and carriers dive into the bush in such quick succession before.
A few of us got together and enquired about the possibility of headquarters providing something like a dog tag just in case something bad happened.
They, of course, simply sputtered for a while and forgot about it.
Nevertheless, we organised for an engraver in Port Moresby to knock some up and we wore them on our patrols along the border.
After I got Chip’s email I rummaged through my collection of bottom-drawer miscellany and found the tag. It had my name and address and blood group on it.
It’s nice to think I didn’t have need of it, just like the warrant card.